Every Shavuot, we read Megillat Rut, which chronicles the tale of Rut, her family, and her ultimate destiny as the ancestor of Dovid HaMelech. The story’s prominence begs the question: though knowing the roots of one of Jewish history’s most important figures is certainly significant, what is so imperative about it’s message that its reading is required annually—and specifically on Shavuot?
First, one needs to understand the essence of Shavuot: our celebration of Matan Torah, receiving G-d’s Torah, thus the completing of our redemption. In which case, Rut, at first glance, does not seem to fit thematically at all with its selected holiday. Rabi Zeira asserts that Rut exists merely to teach us about kindness; while such a trait may be important, why particularly by Shavuot? And if indeed that is the targeted theme, why choose Rut? After all, Avraham Avinu is known as the paradigm for kindness with his unparalleled Hachnasat Orchim.
Several answers have been offered to explain our problem. One connection noted is that David HaMelech’s origins are especially relevant for Shavuot considering it will be one of his descendents who will become the Mashiach. And, because kindness demonstrates an internalization of the Torah, this overarching theme of Rut beautifully embodies this idea.
But I would like to suggest that far more lies within this story in relevance to this chag.
Rut, according to many, was a Moabite princess, and therefore, as per the political workings of the day, her choice of marriage carried tremendous potential, often creating a form of treaty or alliance between two nations. And yet, she chooses to marry Machlon, whose father, Elimelech, carried a tarnished name with little political power due to his abandonment of Israel while it underwent a terrible famine. What did Rut stand to gain from such a marriage?
To understand this, we must first develop a better understanding of Rut’s position when we first encounter her in the Tanach. As a descendant of the illegitimate relationship between Lot and his daughter, it can be assumed that, despite her royalty, she still felt ashamed of her blemished heritage. So when Elimelech and his family came to Moav, she believed that by marrying into this Jewish family she could overcome her disgraceful roots. In a sense then, this moment for her could be viewed as one of a personal Geulah, a redemption—a theme which projects great meaning in the holiday of Shavuot as well.
Furthermore, Rut’s very personality offers a unique and relevant message. It is her commitment to Naomi and G-d, best projected in her passionate speech, “where you live, I will live, your G-d will be my G-d, etc.” which is so incredibly remarkable. She left the security of her plentiful homeland to venture off to the currently barren country of Israel with a woman who was viewed an exile among her people due to her traitorous husband—and indeed Rut suffers tremendously when stooped in poverty there—all in order to assert her belief and attachment to the Jewish way of life and simultaneous rejection of her Moabite customs of the past.
It is because of this commitment that Rut’s journey specifically belongs in our yearly experience of Shavuot. Rut was originally a gentile, someone unconnected to Hashem, but, after witnessing what she believed to be true and good, she was willing to forsake the comfort of a home, food, and the rest of life’s comforts so that she could maintain her convictions. This is a lesson every Jew should learn. Although we have been raised committed Jews, We have knowingly turned from Hashem time and time again to pursue idol worship and other sins. Rut however, not only recognized Hashem as a gentile entirely unfamiliar previously with Him, but she was willing to risk everything to follow Him. And that is what we must do as we now commemorate and relive Matan Torah: keep our promise to unwaveringly follow Hashem and His Torah without concern of personal well-being, just as Rut taught us.